Outsports presents our annual guide to the Super Bowl for those who want to dazzle at their parties. The key players, key stats, the gay angle and the hot players in the game between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts.
By Jim Buzinski
As a public service, here is my annual Super Bowl for the Clueless.
WHAT: Super Bowl XLIV (44 for those Roman-numerically impaired) features the New Orleans Saints (15-3) from the National Football Conference and the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) from the American Football Conference. The Colts have been made a 5-point favorite by the Vegas oddsmakers. The Colts conference, the AFC, has won seven of the last nine Super Bowls. I need to state up front that I am a huge Colts fans and will be in the minority in rooting interest. The sentimental story are the Saints and their bond to New Orleans, especially in light of Hurricane Katrina.
WHERE: The game will be played at Sun Life Stadium in suburban Miami, home to the Miami Dolphins. Miami has been the site of some special Super Bowl moments -- Cincinnati Bengals running back Stanley Wilson going on a cocaine binge and missing the 1989 game; Atlanta Falcons defensive back Eugene Robinson being arrested after soliciting an undercover prostitute for oral sex the night before the 1999 game. The area where Robinson was arrested was frequented by many Falcons in the week leading up to the game. Needless to say, with those distractions the Bengals and Falcons both lost.
KICKOFF/TV: The game is set to begin at 6:25 p.m. EST (or sometime thereafter), shortly after Carrie Underwood belts out the National Anthem. Carrie Underwood, preceded by Jennifer Hudson preceded by Jordan Sparks as anthem singers. Is there some Super Bowl-"American Idol" tie-in I don't know about?
The game will be broadcast on CBS, with Jim Nantz doing the play by play and Phil Simms the commentary. Over the years, I've compiled a list of Simms' many homoerotic comments. Among my favorites: "Tom Brady, he's a handsome dude. He's also fearless and likes the action." "Look at Drew Brees. I'm talking about his pants. Don't get nervous." "Lamar Smith [Miami running back] doesn't look like much in his underwear."
FASHION NOTE: The Colts are the designated home team and will wear their royal blue jerseys with white pants. The Colts have a classic white helmet, with a blue horseshoe as the logo. It's one of the best logos in sports. The Saints are also styling, and will wear their white jerseys with gold pants. Their helmet is cool gold color with a black fleur de lis.
THE TRADITION: The Colts pissed off the state of Maryland when they left Baltimore in 1984 in the middle of the night and moved to Indianapolis. But the Colts are now an Indiana fixture and Baltimore got the Ravens (a solid franchise) to replace them. The Colts won more regular season games than any team in the decade and won the Super Bowl after the 2006 season in Miami. In contrast, the Saints were long known as the ‘Aints, and frustrated fans began the tradition of wearing bags over their heads. This is their first Super Bowl for the Saints and only the eight time in their 42-year history that they made the playoffs (the Colts, in comparison, have made the playoffs the last eight years.)
Here's an interesting stat - franchises making their first Super Bowl appearance are 1-13 vs. franchises that were in the game in the previous five seasons. Based on this, the Colts should win, since their last Super Bowl trip was three years ago.
THE COACHES: Not a whole lot of personality here. The Saints' Sean Payton looks like an accountant, but in personality he comes across like Lady Gaga when compared to the Jim Caldwell of the coach. Caldwell is very smart and well-read but has "coachspeak" down a science, never uttering anything that will remotely fire up the other team. A fan tweeted that when Caldwell is on the sidelines he looks like a guy listening to books on tape.
THE QUARTERBACKS: Drew Brees of the Saints and pitchman extraordinaire Peyton Manning of the Colts were the two best QBs in the league this year, and Manning won the league's Most Valuable Player award. Brees is a favorite among Outsports readers as this discussion board post filled with photos can attest to.
Don't invite Brees to ever share your cheese omelet with toast; he's allergic to dairy, wheat, gluten and eggs. He has been a fixture since being traded to New Orleans in 2006 and is adored by fans there for his charity work and efforts in Hurricane Katrina recovery. He also has a fan base in Indiana, since he attended Purdue University there, so many Colts fans will root for Brees to have a good game, but not good enough to get a win.
On the other side, Manning has deep New Orleans roots as does his family. He was born in the city, where his father, Archie, was the star quarterback for the Saints. Manning's brother Cooper helped Brees find a house when he moved to the city and the two watched the Cowboys-Vikings playoff games together last month.
Archie Manning, despite his love for New Orleans and the Saints, is "100%" rooting for the Colts -"It's a game I'm going to pull for my son," Archie said. "Sean Payton knows that. He's a great friend of mine. Drew Brees knows that. That's just the way it is."
Archie's son, Peyton, is known to even non-football fans for all the commercials he does for products such as MasterCard and Sony. His best work, though, was this hilarious "SNL" skit he did three years ago spoofing the NFL's United Way commercials).
THE GAY ANGLE: One player to root for is Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, a Caucasian adopted and raised by a Japanese-American dad and Caucasian mom. Fujita is unequivocal in his support of gay marriage, telling Dave Zirin of the Nation:
People could look at this issue without blinders on ... the blinders imposed by their church, their parents, their friends or, in our case, their coaches and locker rooms.... I wish they would realize that it's not a religion issue. It's not a government issue. It's not even a gay/straight issue or a question of your manhood. It's a human issue. And until more people see that, we're stuck arguing with people who don't have an argument.
Fujita also endorsed last year's LGBT march on Washington:
I think for me it was a cause that I truly believe in. By in large in this country the issue of gay rights and equality should be past the point of debate. Really, there should be no debate anymore. For me, in my small platform as a professional football player, I understand that my time in the spotlight is probably limited. The more times you have to lend your name to a cause you believe in, you should do that.
Fujita, a political science major from Cal-Berkeley, is married with two kids, but still hasn't stopped ignorant NFL players from trying to get under his skin. "They call me the Pinko Communist Fag from Berkeley," he told Zirin. He added that, "I know for the most part, [players] are a lot more tolerant than they get credit for but they're not comfortable yet speaking out about it. It's going to come in time. By in large, it's an opinion that's shared by more people than are realized. I just wish it was shared by everybody."
On the flip side, the Saints also have jackass Jeremy Shockey as their tight end. Shockey once told Howard Stern that he "wouldn't stand" for having a gay teammate and also called a rival coach a "homo." While I would love Fujita to get a Super Bowl ring, that would also mean that Shockey would get one. Go Colts!
PIERRE'S SQUARED: This is probably the first Super Bowl with players named Pierre and there are two of them. Pierre Thomas is the Saints' best running back, while Pierre Garcon is a second-year Colts receiver who has made a huge impact. Garcon is of Haitian origins and he has used the megaphone of the NFL playoffs to raise awareness for earthquake relief efforts.
ENTERTAINMENT: After the Janet Jackson nipple episode in 2004, the NFL has gone more old-school rock, figuring the likes of the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen would be safe bets. This year's halftime act is The Who, a legendary rock band that I have never liked. With most bands, there's at least one song I get into, but there is nothing in the entire The Who catalog that I like listening to. So don't expect me to watch much of the halftime show.
In addition to Carrie Underwood singing the National Anthem, Queen Latifah will sing "America the Beautiful" prior to the game. To tell you how far the Super Bowl has come as an American institution, the National Anthem for Super Bowl I in 1967 was performed by the universities of Arizona and Michigan bands.
COMMERCIALS: Face it, a lot of you will be at parties where people mostly ignore the game, but are riveted by the commercials. Not me. Most Super Bowl commercials are lame and even the clever ones get old about the 10th time you see them in the following weeks. At $2.5 million for a 30-second spot, they don't come cheap. Which is why Cyd and I thought the whole Mancrunch kerfuffle was a publicity stunt by the fledging gay hook-up site.
This year, sandwiched between ads for Doritos, Coke, Bud, Audi, Career Builders and Go Daddy will be a pro-life message from former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. The ad is being paid for by the anti-gay Focus on the Family. CBS is the same network that in 2004 rejected an ad from the United Church of Christ that was to promote gay tolerance. Can you say hypocrisy?
THE GAME: After all the hype and distractions, there will be a game and it should be a good one. The Saints led the league in scoring, while the Colts offense is equally strong. The quarterbacks, Brees and Manning, are both excellent. Manning has an edge in his ability to read a defense, but Brees is no slouch.
Each team has myriad offensive weapons - Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie for the Colts; and Marcus Colston, Reggie Bush, Robert Meachem, Pierre Thomas and Jeremy Shockey for the Saints. If you like a lot of offense, this game should be terrific.
Defensively, the Saints do not have a strong front seven (defensive line and linebackers), but they do have a solid secondary that thrives on turning the ball over. Safety Darren Sharper keys the defense and is the one defender the Colts need to be aware of on every play.
The Colts defense is smallish (for the NFL) but extremely fast, which should blunt some of the Saints' offensive misdirection plays. The wild card here is the health of Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, the best pass rusher in the league. He has a bad ankle injury and could either miss the game or be limited. A near-healthy Freeney means big trouble for Brees; an ineffective Freeney puts a ton more pressure on the Colts' linebackers and secondary.
The Saints have a special teams edge in returns with speedsters Reggie Bush and Courtney Roby. The Colts are better in the kicking game, with veteran Matt Stover more reliable than 23-year-old Saints kicker Garrett Harltley. Stover, 42, will be the oldest player ever in a Super Bowl and he has kicked in 297 games, including a Super Bowl. Hartley, in contrast, has kicked in 13 games in his two-year career.
PICK: If Freeney were healthy, I would take the Colts by double digits. Manning is peerless and the defense with Freeney is stifling. With a banged up Freeney, though, this game becomes almost a toss-up; that's how important he is to the Colts (though the Colts did win twice this season without Freeney). I expect a lot of back and forth and tons of offense. Watch for turnovers -- in games they won this season, the Saints averaged 11 points off of turnovers; in their losses they averaged less than two points. The Colts are not a turnover-type team.
Indianapolis is 16-0 in games they tried to win and 0-2 in games where they rested their starters. They have come back a record seven times in the fourth quarter and somehow always manage to find a way to win. They will do so again on Sunday. Colts 38, Saints 31. Make your pick in the comments below.
HOT PLAYERS: They will be eye candy aplenty. Here are some of the players to watch:
Reggie Bush, running back and punt returns:
Drew Brees, quarterback:
Darren Sharper, defensive back:
Dallas Clark, tight end:
Sam Giguere, reserve receiver. Hhe might not be on the active roster but I couldn't resist this shot:
Austin Collie, wide receiver: